Jaime Moreno on Hall of Tradition: 'I did something right'
Jaime Moreno will be the latest inductee into D.C. United's Hall of Tradition, the team confirmed today.
Moreno, one of the most prolific strikers in Major League Soccer history, will be enshrined alongside iconic players such as Marco Etcheverry, Ben Olsen and Eddie Pope. He will receive the honor at a special ceremony to be held at the half of United's match against the L.A. Galaxy in September.
"Jaime Moreno was simply the greatest forward this league has ever seen," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "His contributions to D.C. United and the league should not be forgotten, as he was one of the special players that helped make this league what it is today. Jaime made the game look easy and I am honored that I was able to share the field with him."
"If you look at individual and team success, he's done more than this league has ever seen. He lives in a class by himself," agreed DCU assistant coach Chad Ashton. "He's just a frightening forward to play against: speed, smarts, unbelievable feet, he understands the game. He wasn't just able to do it and do it well, he was able to do it over a very long period of time."
Moreno indeed enjoyed a long and, to the delight of D.C. fans, eventful soccer career.
After signing with the club in its inaugural season on July 29, 1996, Moreno scored in his very first DCU appearance a week later. Moreno would go on to become an integral part of United's Cup-winning team that season and would help capture a total of four MLS Cup titles (1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004), four Supporters' Shields (1997, 1999, 2006 and 2007), two U.S. Open Cup championships (1996 and 2008) and the 1998 Champions’ Cup and InterAmerican Cup before hanging up his spikes after the 2010 season.
In addition to helping rack up hardware for D.C. United, Moreno set numerous individual records during his 15-year MLS career as well. Upon retirement, Moreno ranked first in 15 MLS statistical categories, including games played (329), started (288), minutes played (25,277), goals (131), assists (102), game-winning goals (26), game-winning assists (26), multi-goal games (17) and penalty kick goals (43). Moreno was also the first MLS player to reach the 100 goals, 100 assists mark. A milestone he reached by setting up former teammate, turned coworker, Olsen on April 17, 2009.
"I wouldn't say that it was fun playing against him, but it was certainly a challenge," said former MLS rival John Thorrington, who faced Moreno in his final years as a member of the Chicago Fire. "I think the statistics would show how important he was, but there were things he did that maybe don't show up on a stat sheet: setting guys up, putting his team in positions to win games. I think he should go down as one of the best.
"[Facing Moreno] wasn't fun. I think he was one of the toughest match-ups I've ever had in the league. That was toward the end of his career but he was still so intelligent and good with using his body. He'd be running with the ball and somehow knocking you down as you're trying to knock him off the ball. He was just so strong and had a lot of pace still.
But Moreno didn't just leave a stark impression on his opponents. His long service as a member of the Black-and-Red still resonates among players who were lucky enough to once call him their teammate.
"I was fortunate enough to start training with D.C. United as a young guy and to be around those guys like Jaime and Ben, the guys that paved the way for D.C. United," said keeper Bill Hamid, who grew up watching Moreno play at RFK Stadium and followed him during his short European stint with Middlesbrough FC.
"To be around him, to hear his jokes and see his personality in the locker room that everybody could get along with. At the same time, to be in goal and take shots against him, a prolific scorer. As a young guy it's an honor to be on the field at the same time as him. Any accolade that he gets, he deserves it."
In 2002, a back injury threatened to end the forward's career just as it was beginning to take off. Injuries, coupled with head butting between Moreno and DCU management, resulted in an offseason trade to the rival MetroStars. After electing to undergo surgery on a pair of herniated disks, a procedure that could have forced early retirement, Moreno returned to the Black-and-Red for an eye-opening 2004 season.
His playing status in flux, Moreno was forced to take a lower contract and prove that he could rebound to his former level.
"I had a lot of anger at myself," said Moreno. "But I was lucky enough that I put all those feelings away and I just worked as hard as I could, not even when I was younger did I work as hard as that year. It proved to myself the most that I could still play and I proved a lot of people wrong that were saying that I was done. So it was a big year."
Moreno led the DCU offense that season with seven goals and fourteen assists and helped bring home the club's most recent MLS Cup.
"When I look at all my years, really, I was very steady I wasn’t great, I wasn’t bad I was always at the same level and that’s very hard to keep that level. Then after 2004 I thought my level got even better," said Moreno, who followed his 2004 campaign by matching his career-high of 16 goals in the 2005 season.
"I think it's just the years that you play, they give you so much experience. Even my position changed, but you see things different and easier, you make things easier and that’s when you know you’re successful. Soccer is all about making things easy for yourself and your teammates. It just worked out perfect."
Though Moreno's speed began to wane as the striker delved into his mid-30's, he never lost his nose for the net. Since returning to the club in 2004, Moreno was in the top-5 on the team in scoring right up until his final season.
"As the years went by you could tell the type of finisher he was. He didn't have to smack a ball to score. He didn't have to hit it as hard as possible. He knew the right pace, the right spin," said Hamid, who admitted he still gets excited every time Moreno greets him by name.
"He was always scientific with the way he knew how to score. He'd just side tap it into the side netting and you'd kind of wonder how to get there. It's not really about speed: it's about precision. He mastered that. You could tell the experience that he had in his game and that was a sight to see."
Just six months after his retirement from professional soccer, D.C. United hired Moreno to coach their U-23 academy players.
Though the striker admits he'd rather still be playing, he has embraced his role in helping shape the next generation of American soccer greats.
"It's hard. Very hard. It's been three years since I've retired but I feel like I haven't," laughed Moreno. "I'm still playing around with friends so I don't think I really understand like, 'OK. I'm retired now' because I'm still thinking like a player. When you're a coach that's the hard part: you're still thinking as a player.
"It's a different thing. But to see the results, to see the things you work on in practice and then you see them on the field, it's a nice feeling. That shows you that they are listening to you. That the stuff that you told them is paying off or at least they get it and they're trying to put it all on the field."
For all his accolades and titles, Moreno remains grounded about his playing career. He jokes that fans must only wear his jersey because of a supposed abundance in the bargain bin during the holiday season.
For Moreno, his fondest memories involve a healthy mix of his contributions to his club and to his fans.
"Definitely titles and at the same time being somebody, being a role model for the younger generation. You don't realize the impact you can have on other people until you're done playing. Then I realized teammates and college players were talking about me. It was something I never heard. It's just doing the right things and knowing that you have helped this league grow and being part of the generation that was totally different than it is now.
"We did something that I think a lot of people do appreciate and it shows with all the affection. Now soccer is growing so much. Even though the younger, younger kids don't recognize me and their parents have to explain to them who I am, it's just nice to get stopped and told 'thank you for what you've done'. It's a nice feeling. Definitely you always feel short, because you feel like you could have done a lot of things better, but that's life."
Moreno was selected by fan voting over fellow DCU greats Alecko Eskandarian, Carlos Llamosa and Tony Sanneh. He will be the tenth United alumnus inducted into the Hall of Tradition.